Florida televangelist Paula White, who has served as a spiritual adviser to President Trump, will join his administration in an official capacity, according to a senior administration official and another person familiar with the move.
The move appears to formalize a relationship that has been years in the making, going back nearly two decades to when White and Trump first met.
White was one of six clergy who prayed at Trump’s inauguration, and other evangelical advisers say she speaks with Trump regularly. She is known as one of the most prominent televangelists who teach a prosperity gospel, that God will reward believers with wealth and health, a teaching that many Christians believe is heretical.
Trump’s 2016 campaign had an advisory council of mostly white evangelical leaders during his campaign, many of whom have continued to serve as unofficial advisers. Some, including Southern Baptist pastors, recently promoted White’s new book.
Johnnie Moore, an informal leader of Trump’s evangelical advisory board, of which White is often the convener, said the Florida-based megachurch pastor and author recently played a significant role in helping push forward criminal justice reform policies. “She has been a liaison to all kinds of Christians, Christians who were critical of her and impolite before they met her,” he said.
White did not immediately return a phone call or text message from The Washington Post on Friday. The change was first reported Friday by the New York Times.
It is unclear whether White will be paid in her new role.
Past presidents, including Barack Obama and George W. Bush, set up formal councils on faith-based and community partnerships, but Trump has not made that same faith-based council structure a key priority in his administration.
Instead, his evangelical advisory board is an informal gathering of religious leaders who supported the president during his campaign and continue to receive invitations to the White House regularly. After providing their support early on, the group has been rewarded with invitations to dinners and consultations.
The unofficial advisers have often been criticized even among evangelicals for their uncritical admiration of the Trump administration. Some have pointed to past examples of how evangelicals have been used for political gain. One famous evangelical, the late Chuck Colson of the Nixon administration, once led the Office of Public Liaison as director. But after he spent time in prison, he recalled how Nixon would use evangelicals.
“Sure, we used the prayer breakfasts and church services and all that for political ends,” Colson later said, according to historian Kevin Kruse. “One of my jobs in the White House was to romance religious leaders. We would bring them into the White House, and they would be dazzled by the aura of the Oval Office, and I found them to be about the most pliable of any of the special interest groups that we worked with.”
Trump has pleased many evangelical leaders with his nomination of Supreme Court justices, his antiabortion policies and his inclusion of evangelicals in his own administration, such as Vice President Pence and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.
A group of leaders met with Trump earlier this week and prayed for him. Evangelical leaders who were there included James Dobson, Ralph Reed and Tony Perkins, and White was seated at Trump’s right hand.
A privilege to meet with & pray w/ @POTUS.— Johnnie Moore ن (@JohnnieM) October 31, 2019
This week we discussed achievements like: criminal justice reform, defending religious freedom, reducing abortion, combatting the opioid crisis & trafficking, the end of ISIS & Baghdadi
(Official White House Photos by Joyce Boghosian) pic.twitter.com/m0VJnUS6jR
Under President George W. Bush, the idea of a faith-based office was formed and raised questions over the relationship between church and state. In 2009, Obama established an Advisory Council on Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships, which included 60 representatives from a variety of faiths, including evangelical, Catholic, Buddhist, Mormon, Jewish and Muslim. Last year, Trump announced his version of the White House faith-based office called the White House Faith and Opportunity Initiative. Rather than inviting religious leaders to the White House through an established council, Trump’s liaison office has extended invitations to select leaders.
Josh Dawsey contributed to this report.